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Exploring the views of pre-service science teachers about how they learn to teach environmental education.

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There is a global urgency to engage with environmental education (EE), based on, among other things, environmental crises related to climate change and environmental degradation. School curricular are viewed as one way of making citizens more conscious of environmental issues. EE is a relatively new knowledge and skill area for South African teachers. Curriculum policy stipulates that environmental problems be addressed in a specific manner. The views of pre-service science teachers about their experiences when they learn to teach EE were central to this study. The purpose of this research was to explore how pre-service science teachers learn to teach EE. The focus of this study was to gain insight into the content and pedagogical content knowledge of these pre-service science teachers when they worked with topics related to EE. Twenty five pre-service science teachers, who were training to teach in the intermediate and senior phases (Grades 4-9) of the South African School System, were purposively selected to participate in this qualitative study. This work was located in the interpretive paradigm, and an understanding of pre-service science teachers‟ views of their practice within a South African teacher education context was sought. Qualitative data were generated using focus group interviews, individual interviews and reflective diaries. Vygotsky‟s Zone of Proximal Development, and theoretical constructs embedded in constructivism, informed the analysis of the data. Pre-service science teachers who participated in this study expressed the views that teaching EE was important due to human dependence on the environment, the need to transform societies and consideration of the current environmental challenges. The challenges which participants experienced when learning to teach topics related to EE included integrating indigenous knowledge systems and EE in Natural Sciences, designing practical work, limited foundational knowledge, insufficient exposure to EE, inadequate resources, and inability to experience teaching EE during Teaching Practice or Work Integrated Learning (WIL) periods, amongst others. In spite of these challenges, the pre-service science teacher participants suggested various ways of overcoming the challenges of learning how to teach EE in Natural Sciences, including working in groups, collaborative learning with peers, independent research, use of digital technology (internet), engaging with external human resources and improvisation. These suggestions demonstrated scaffolding which helped the pre-service science teachers to move to their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) in learning and development as described by Vygotsky. Recommendations that evolved from insights emanating from this research will be significant to teacher education institutions, university lecturers and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).


M. Ed. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 2014.


Environmental education -- South Africa., Science teachers -- South Africa., Curriculum change -- South Africa., Theses -- Education.